The coronavirus shouldn’t be your only concern over all the germs that could be hiding in cars. According to a recent report from CBS Baltimore, Lyft and Uber vehicles have 35,000 times more germs than your average toilet seat.
But don’t think we’re singling out ride-sharing companies. Riding the bus or taking a taxi also carries a lot of risks because a large number of passengers share a relatively small space, the air inside, and touch surfaces such as seats, windows, doors, and seat belts.
Worst yet are rental cars, which according to a report by NetQuote, sit between rideshares and taxis when it comes to the number of germs they can carry. Luckily, new tech is being developed which can neutralize microbes and germs in vehicles.
High-Efficiency Particulate Air, otherwise known as HEPA, filters out 99.9% of airborne particles as tiny as 0.3 microns, or most contaminants that you would want to remove. JVC recently came out with the KS-GA100 Air Purifier, which fits into a cup holder and is powered by the 12-volt outlet in your car. It filters out particles and removes bad scents and odors in your cabin. With a capacity of eight cubic meters per hour, the KS-GA100 from JVC can filter the air in an average-sized car twice within an hour, but your windows do need to be closed.
The market for car air purifiers is big and it’s hard to judge how effective they are based on your senses, so seeing a product from a big brand gives us the confidence to finally buy an air purifier. However, the technology is not that new. In fact, the Toyota Camry Hybrid from 2007 was among the first models to integrate Sharp’s Plasmacluster technology into its HVAC. More recently, Tesla has added a Bioweapon Defense Mode cabin filtration system to the Model S and Model X. As the name suggests, a Tesla car with this option can help you survive a biological attack.
Unfortunately, a HEPA air filtration system doesn’t guarantee protection against COVID-19. That’s because many coronaviruses are too small, or smaller than 0.3 microns, which is the limit of what HEPA systems promise to filter out. Despite that, the CDC has backed and recommended HEPA and face masks (N95) as the bare minimum for protection in clinical use such as hospitals.
While N95 face masks and HEPA filtration systems are an excellent first line of defense, hospitals also sterilize viruses and drug-resistant superbugs with a type of ultraviolet light named UV-C. Even ambulance cars are fitted with UV-C light emitters for sterilization in unpredictable situations. When it comes to cars, Jaguar Land Rover is developing a similar UV-C filtration system as a part of its ventilation system.
Another option is on the horizon from Yanfeng, who are trying to create a ‘wellness pod’ that offers the same UV-C light. The device is supposed to be mounted in-factory to the ceiling of your car and offer a number of scents, besides air sterilization.
However, if UV-C light comes in contact with skin or other tissues, it can cause cancer. But there’s no need to worry because all of the car systems we’ve mentioned so far make use of UV-C within closed-off areas like vents. There’s also a recent study from the Medical Center at Columbia University which reports that a certain type of UV-C light is as effective at sterilizing viruses, but causes no harm to human tissue. The light used must use a narrow bandwidth and be on the farther end of the UV spectrum of light. The research is promising and the specific blue-white tint of this UV-C light might just be ubiquitous with interior car lighting in the future.
How to Stay Safe Now
While it’s interesting to read about upcoming technologies, most of us are more concerned with immediate protection. Fortunately, there are a few worthwhile options for anyone who wants to disinfect their car interior. These products come in the form of sprays and many of them claim to be effective when it comes to neutralizing the norovirus, influenza, and coronavirus – the three viruses that raise the most concern.
These products, however, do not claim to be effective against the latest coronavirus strain called COVID-19. In any case, these products are meant to go into warm, dark and hard to reach places like your car vents which are perfect places for harmful microbes to accumulate. Lastly, if you would rather let someone else take care of this, find a local car detailing service that can disinfect interiors rather than just make them shine.
- “WHO urges nations to pull “out all the stops” in coronavirus fight: “This is not a drill,” CBS News, 8 March, 2020,
- “Uber, Lyft Cars Have More Germs Than A Toilet Seat, Study Finds,” CBS Baltimore,
- “Could You Be Driving With Germs?” netQuote,
- “KS-GA100 Air Purifier,” JVC,